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Game Preview: ‘Nova seeks another outright regular season title in finale vs. Seton Hall

The Wildcats are looking to make it five Big East regular season crowns in six years, and lock up the top seed heading into the Big East Tournament

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to some late-game heroics by Myles Powell and a resilient effort from the Seton Hall Pirates as a whole on Wednesday night, the Villanova Wildcats have secured at least a share of the Big East regular season title.

The ‘Cats are in the driver’s seat for another outright regular season crown, as they can potentially pull off their fifth in six seasons. To do so, they’ll have to go on the road and beat the Pirates in the regular season finale on Saturday, at 12 p.m.

By The Numbers

Villanova enters Saturday in sole possession of the top spot in the conference, boasting a 13-4 record in Big East play and a 22-8 overall record. A win on Saturday, or a loss by the Marquette Golden Eagles, would give ‘Nova the outright Big East regular season title and grant the Wildcats the No. 1-seed in the Big East Tournament. Should Villanova lose and Marquette wins, the seeding picture gets complicated. However, as Brendan Reilly punched the numbers on Thursday, Villanova has an 87.5 percent chance to clinch the top seed--very good odds.

As for Seton Hall, the Pirates can possibly finish anywhere from third through eighth after applying tiebreakers. Their upset win against Marquette was a big deal, as it broke a three-game losing streak and gave Seton Hall a much-needed win to boost its postseason resume and salvage NCAA Tournament hopes. The Pirates will look to follow up that victory with another huge win over Villanova.

Seton Hall is currently 17-12 overall and 8-9 in conference play.

Last Time Out

The two teams previously met at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 27, with the Wildcats slaughtering the Pirates in a 80-52 beatdown win.

’Nova drilled 17 three-pointers, while Seton Hall struggled with turnovers and Kevin Willard was so unhappy with his team’s effort that he benched the starters at one point. Seton Hall star Myles Powell was held to just three points, and he coughed the ball up seven times.

Scouting Seton Hall

While Seton Hall was demolished in Philadelphia, it seems like no matter how good or bad of a season the Pirates are having, they always show a more ferocious side when the series heads over to the Pirate den at the Prudential Center.

The jokes about this game being the “SHUper Bowl” or “the Pirates’ National Championship Game” aren’t too far-fetched, as there’s always a little added emphasis from the crowd and the players when ‘Nova comes to town. This was a hot ticket on the New Jersey market the second the schedule dropped and before a single 2018-19 game was played.

After an upset win over Marquette, it’s bound to be even more special. With exception to 2014 and 2017, the Pirates have given the Wildcats a hard fight at the Rock, even after ‘Nova might blow them out at the Pavilion or in this year’s case, the Wells Fargo Center. In 2015, Seton Hall beat ‘Nova by five in overtime. The year after that, the Wildcats squeezed out a 72-71 win in Newark. Last season, Villanova beat Seton Hall soundly at home, only to have to outlast the Pirates in an overtime dogfight by one point.

While ‘Nova had the hot hand and Seton Hall looked absolutely disorganized the last time out, don’t expect a victory in a similar fashion. The odds are definitely still very much in Villanova’s favor, but the Pirates should be a more competitive this time around, especially with much at stake for them.

We know the deal with Seton Hall--Powell’s the leading man, and then the picture gets hazy from there. Like other star players, outside of Villanova, in the conference--Markus Howard and Shamorie Ponds, for example--Powell is a game-changing talent. He has the ability to heat up and take over games. He’s also delivered in clutch situations in the past.

Powell is currently the second-highest scorer in the conference, averaging 22.7 points per game. He can score from almost anywhere on the floor, but he is only one of two Seton Hall players that are real threats from long range--with the other being Myles Cale (36.9 percent from beyond the arc). He also leads Seton Hall on the defensive end, with a team-high 1.9 steals per game.

Now, unlike Howard and Ponds, Powell and the rest of Seton Hall doesn’t have consistent secondary scoring. With Marquette, after Howard there’s the Hauser brothers. For St. John’s, there are three other players besides Ponds that average in double figures. You could also argue for Justin Simon, who’s averaging 9.9 points per game.

After Powell, Cale is also averaging in double figures, but he’s an up-and-down offensive player. Same goes for Quincy McKnight, Michael Nzei, and Sandro Mamukelashvili.

X-Factor: Defense

While the Pirates have struggled to find consistent secondary scoring to assist Powell, they’ve performed pretty well on the defensive end of the court.

According to KenPom, they’re top-50 in terms of defensive efficiency. The Pirates force turnovers on 20.0 percent of opponents’ possessions, and it was that ability of generating takeaways that allowed them to upset Marquette. They forced the Golden Eagles to turn the ball over 18 times and converted that into 25 points off turnovers.

While it was a dominant win for ‘Nova, it did turn the ball over 14 times. Overall, the ‘Cats have improved at taking care of the ball since the beginning of the year, now averaging just 11.0 turnovers per game.

Also, although the ‘Cats enjoyed a heavy three-point barrage on them back in January, the Pirates have been typically good at defending the perimeter. They’ve held opponents to shooting just 33.3 percent from long range this season and they did a great job of suffocating Markus Howard. They held him to 2-for-10 from deep and overall Marquette shot below average for the entire game on Wednesday, converting on just 9-of-30 three-point attempts.

As for Villanova, it enjoyed an all-around complete performance against Seton Hall last time out. It was nearly unstoppable offensively, but more importantly, strong defensively. The ‘Cats did a great job of limiting Powell and making him a non-factor. With the Pirates’ leading scorer struggling, it was only natural that the team’s offensive performance had a difficult time as well. If Villanova can replicate a similar lockdown performance on Powell, it’ll be a long day for the Pirates.